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Originally published Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 4:00 PM

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Time for governments to tweak snowstorm management

It's soul-searching time on snowstorm management. Seattle has unique challenges but also can do better by its citizens.

GOVERNMENT handling of the first blizzard of 2010 did not go well, so state and local officials are reassessing and tweaking snow plans in case Mother Nature strikes again. And in this La Niña winter, she will.

Some changes make a lot of sense:

• The state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) foolishly decided not to open the Interstate 5 express lanes northbound out of the city during the Monday afternoon commute amid the storm, a decision that backed too many cars and buses onto city streets.

A news release from WSDOT and the State Patrol says the departments will "Review how the I-5 express lanes are utilized during snow events, and improve coordinated decision making within WSDOT and with transportation partners about altering normal schedules for reversing the lanes and other operational issues." That's transportation-ese for "We messed up and won't do it again." Please don't.

• WSDOT and the Patrol wisely plan a new joint-response team that employs a snowplow and a Patrol car to be dispatched to collisions involving buses, semi-trucks and other large vehicles. Many problems involved semis and buses.

• The transportation department will convert pickup trucks into mini-sanders in the interest of greater maneuverability. Smaller vehicles have a better chance to weave through stalled traffic and lay down sand.

• The city of Seattle is in full soul-searching mode on snowstorm management, with the City Council planning a hearing Dec. 14. The city needs quicker access to elevated structures, such as the West Seattle Bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Vehicles with rock salt will be prepositioned in key locations to be able to get to these places in a more timely manner.

• Mayor Mike McGinn says the city needs to work harder to find the right combination of road-coating materials. A brine mixture was applied vigorously in the days before the storm but it became too diluted and less effective as more snow fell and temperatures dropped. The city will look at various saltlike substances to see which works best.

Seattle has numerous challenges in a snowstorm. We have many hills, poorly trained snow drivers and a tendency for snow to fall as wet mush and then freeze.

It is sometimes not feasible to blunt many effects of a snowstorm, but public officials must keep trying and use best practices to improve on past efforts.

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